IN NUMBERS: How beneficial is VFA to the Philippines?

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2020 04:13 PM

Philippine and U.S troops unload medical supplies as they land at Cagayancillo in Palawan for their Community Health Education and training as part of the 2016 Balikatan Exercise on Sunday. Dante Diosina, Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Thursday gave a rundown on the billions-worth of military and humanitarian aid the Philippines has received from the United States, thanks to the long-standing alliance between the two countries. 

The Philippines received nearly $1 billion (P50.73 billion) in military equipment, training, aid and funding for various projects just from 2016 to 2019, Locsin said in a Senate inquiry. 

The hearing sought to weigh the benefits the Philippines receives from its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, which President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to revoke last month over the canceled visa of his long-time ally Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa. 

Here's a list of those benefits according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief:

FOREIGN MILITARY FINANCING AND PROCUREMENT OF DEFENSE EQUIPMENT

2016 to 2019

-$267.75 million (P13.58 billion) 

2020 to 2021

- $200 million (P10.14 billion) for aircraft, training, equipment and construction for the Armed Forces of the Philippines
- $45 million (P2.2 billion) in foreign military financing

"The Philippines is able to receive after-sales servicing in the form of maintenance packages that increase the articles' value and lifespan," Locsin said.

Some 319 activities designed to "enhance" Filipino troops' capabilities "in countering threats to national security" were also slated in 2020 alone, he said.

SUPPORT VS 'NON-TRADITIONAL SECURITY THREATS'

Development assistance

- $336.30 million (P17.05 billion) for scholarships, seminars, projects on health, environment, agriculture, fisheries, trade, labor and governance

Locsin said US assistance support projects against human trafficking, cyberattacks and narcotics, and help fund disaster response and intelligence and capability-building. 

"Without the VFA, the US Departments of State and Defense may have difficulty in requesting funds from the US Congress for FMF (foreign military financing) and other defense assistance programs to the Philippines."

'INDIRECT BENEFITS'

Close relations between Manila and Washington have also resulted in economic benefits as the US is inclined to give "preferential treatment" to its traditional allies, Locsin said.

The US is the Philippines' "largest source of grants," accounting for 36.89 percent of the total grant aid the country received in 2018.

These grants amount to $886.47 million (P44.96 billion), according to Locsin.

The US is also the Philippines' 3rd largest trading partner, biggest export market and 4th largest import source with some $18.70 billion (P948 million) worth of goods traded in 2018.

It is also the country's 3rd largest tourism market, next to South Korea and China, with 1 million American tourists visiting the Philippines in 2018.

The world's largest economy is also the Philippines' 5th largest source of investments, with American investments amounting to P12.9 billion in 2018.

'IRRITANTS'

"While the Philippines has the prerogative to terminate the VFA anytime, the continuance of the Agreement is deemed to be more beneficial to the Philippines compared to any benefits were it to be terminated," Locsin told the Senate Committee on Foreign relations.

While it is the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that compels the US and the Philippines to come to the aid of the other in the event of an attack, the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) "makes it relevant," the DFA chief said.

"To put it more graphically, the MDT without the VFA and EDCA is like a balloon without air," he said.

"[The] VFA/EDCA cuts the response time of MDT to zero. If we're hit, the enemy is hit in the same second."

Despite the benefits, Locsin underscored that the government needs to "revisit" the VFA to address "irritants."

"There are of course irritants which need to be addressed... There may be some value in revisiting the VFA to address issues of sovereignty, such as jurisdiction and custody," he said.

Duterte threatened to unilaterally pull out from the VFA last month after the US cancelled Dela Rosa's 10-year visa. The senator led Duterte's war on drugs during his stint as chief of the Philippine National Police.